It’s Islamofascism Research Week

A call for suggestions on reading material…

Since it’s the end of “Islamofacsism Week”, I thought I’d toss a question and a request for research help out there to the crowd. I’ve argued for a while that we face a significant problem worldwide with a movement within Islam (note that ‘a movement within’ =! ‘Islam’) that is absolutist, violent, nihilistic, and expansionist, and that we need to break the movement before it becomes the dominant one within the Muslim community (at which point my little equation may be incorrect).

In my view the roots of this movement are as European as they are Islamic.

There are three European-influenced movements that I’ve found in modern Islamic thought; Pan-Arabism – the notion of the ‘Arab People’ as one nation; the Palestinian movement; and the Muslim Brotherhood, and it’s descendents down to Al Ida.

All three have strong European roots, and in two cases, appear to have foundational connections to (actual as opposed to Bushitler) Nazism.

I wrote about Pan-Arabism a while ago:

I picked up Bernard Lewis’ collection of essays ‘From Babel to Dragomans‘ and have been working through it in my odd moments. One of his essays, on Pan-Arabism, makes the following connections:

…the first theoretical statement of pan-Arabism is the work of a certain ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi (?1849 – 1902), nowadays generally regarded as the ideological pioneer of pan-Arabism…He is principally remembered for two books, both of which were attacks on the Ottoman Sultanate in general and on the reigning Sultan, Abdulhamid II, in particular…The second [book], entitled Umm al-Qura (The Mother of Cities, i.e. Mecca)…is hardly more original than the other [Lewis suggests that Kawakibi’s first book was a hash of Della Tirannide, by Alfieri], being to a large extent a reflection of the views expressed by the English Romantic poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt in his book The Future of Islam, published in 1881 and setting forth the idea of an Arab Caliphate.

Bin-Laden’s core philosophy is thus the restoration of something that never was – an Arab (as opposed to Turkish) Caliphate. Something suggested originally by a British Romantic poet. The philosophical lineage is there; now it just needs to be explored. Blunt’s book is at the UCLA library, and sometime in the next few weeks, I’ll go pick it up and report.

(I never did, but will…)


Lewis continues:

The second intellectual precursor of pan-Arabism was another Syrian, this time a Christian, Negib (Najib) Azoury (birthdate unknown – died 1916). Azoury was a Maronite or Uniate Catholic Christian who studied in Istanbul and Paris and later became a provincial official in Jerusalem. He left his post in unknown circumstances and seems to have been condemned to death in absentia in 1904, when he fled to Paris. In the following year, he published a book, Le reveil de la nation arabe. He spent most of the remaining years of his life in Paris, where he formed an organization – probably a one-man show – called the ‘Ligue de la patrie arabe’ … The name, it has been remarked is reminiscent of the anti-Drefusard ‘Ligue de la patrie francaise’, which flourished in the late eighteen nineties. His writings reflect the anti-Semetic obsessions with worldwide Jewish power which were current in anti-Dreyfusard circles…

So the roots of Islamist thought can be seen as going back to the salons of London and cafes of Paris. That matters, both because it shows that the philosophy we’re fighting against is a relatively recent one – this isn’t thousands of years old – and that it had other paths to follow:

The new and significant elements in Kawakibi’s writings are 1) his clear and explicit rejection of the Ottoman Caliphate; 2) his insistence on the Arabic-speaking peoples as a corporate entity with political rights of its own and 3) most radical of all, his idea of a spiritual Caliphate which would presumably leave politics and government to a secular authority separate from religious authority and law, entirely within the scope of human decision and action.
(emphasis added)

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in the 1920’s by an Egyptian schoolteacher, Hassan al-Banna. He is often sited as having corresponded with and received aid from the Nazi Party; one thing I’d love to get pointed to is one or two good biographies of him. al-Banna was one of Qutb’s mentors, and Qutb’s writings strongly influenced not only the Muslim Brotherhood but the movements that we loosely call ‘Islamist’ today.

And finally, we have Mohammad al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem (so created by the British, btw), who spent World War II in Germany trying to be helpful to the Reich. al-Husayni was Yassir Arafat’s predecessor and as reported, sponsor. Here’s also someone I’d like to know more about.

But I think that it’s fair to suggest that there are enough ties to fascism that it’s not outrageous to use the term. But it’s always worth learning more. And learning more about the links between European anti-Enlightenment philosophy and Islamism as well.

the common roots may explain why it is that anti-enlightenment movements and Islamist movements seem to make such good bedfellows.

23 thoughts on “It’s Islamofascism Research Week”

  1. I disagree whith the term Islamofascim, I think created by Frank Gaffney Jr., when it is used to define our terrorist problem with AlQaeda and similar groups. I think it draws confussion.

    There is an Islamofascist movement, quite secular, based in the Continental European Nationalism and Socialism, that wants to emulate the processes that created such important nations today as Germany and Italy. They use Islam mostly to strength their common identity.

    But AlQaeda is not Islamofascist, but a religious movement rooted in the orthodox application of Islam. Nationalism and Socialism were born in the 19th century, the Jihad in the Middle Ages. When Islamofascism hit reality and failed, AlQaeda entered the scene.

    The term Islamofascism may be well concieved if you want to keep the public concerned, but technically it is not correctly used.

  2. Al Qaeda uses Islam as a recruiting tool, but it also uses other enticements, like drugs and the always-popular opportunity to kill people and be famous.

    The media doesn’t focus on al Qaeda’s drug use as much as they focus on the religious aspects of the group, but it is a fact that drug use is as important to al Qaeda as their religious ‘piety’

    According to Richard Clarke, al Qaeda, Hamas and nearly every other Islamist terrorist group on the planet was founded by and is currently funded by the fascist Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim brotherhood controls the many offshore accounts that are terrorism’s billion-dollar financial infrastructure.

    Most of that money comes from petrodollars, supplied by Iran and our allies in Saudi Arabia.

    I don’t agree with the term Islamofascism either. What we’re fighting is a fairly standard fascist/supremacist group. Focusing on the ‘religious’ aspects rather than the political/military/financial aspects of this group gives us the false impression that there is a religious or ideological solution to the problem. There isn’t. It’s the same old fascist extremism, with fewer weapons and better drugs.

  3. How we frame this problem and discuss it influences these Muslim extremist movements’ abilities to recruit followers. We need to be aware of that.

    By treating “Islamofascism” as an existential threat to the West, we glorify that movement in the eyes of many potential recruits, and make it easier for them to attract and motivate followers. Making them the target of the “Global War on Terror” was magnifying their strategic importance, far beyond reality.

    We should be treating them as an organized criminal gang, who happened to luck out (by their standards) and commit a horrific act on 9-11. When a fringe government like the Taliban gives refuge to that gang, then they become subject to the law as well.

    We should be minimizing the power and the impact, not maximizing it.

    Treat them like the KKK and similar organizations in the USA, who were once terrifyingly powerful, but over decades have been reduced to impotent laughingstocks. Yes, a nutcase can blow up a federal building in Oklahoma and kill a bunch of people. He can even have friends who publish marginal newsletters advocating similar things, and practice running through the woods. But they are not existential threats to the USA, and shouldn’t be treated that way.

    Certainly we need to study their origins and development. But treat the
    “existential threat” stuff as the puffery it deserves. It only inflates them.

    (But be aware that there are folks on our side with a personal and political investment in the “existential threat” story, since it means that they are fighting a terribly important enemy, and should therefore be given all kinds of extra resources.)

  4. I think the Criminal Gang designation is the best way to view them, much like the Bader Meinhoff crowd and the Italian groups that were rampant in the ’60s and early 70’s. The Main difference being the religious angle which is employed. Though if you take Marxism as a particularly warped Judeo-Christian heresy, then even this difference disappears.

    In Arab political history it was the Baathists and the Christian Phalange that were the direct offshoots of European fascism.
    Al Queda and the rest of the scores of motley Groups in the Islamic world seem much too anarchic to rise above the level of of criminal gangs. This is not to dismiss them, but we should put them in perspective. As far as I can see their is no Islamo-Fascist movement and it is just obscures what we are facing by characterizing the phenomenon with loaded buzz words.

  5. Analogies to Bader Meinhof or Italian Red Brigades are quite inappropriate. Those numbered in the scores at most and could affect a handful of victims at a time. Al Queda trained tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan. They have demonstrated a capability of destruction of the order of thousands of people. Before the military operations in Afghanistan, Al Queda fielded what were light infantry units. That the idea of treating such as a “criminal gang” is discredited ought to be obvious.

    Its more than a bit astonishing to find people claiming so.

  6. Robin [#5],

    When has al Qaeda fielded “light infantry units”, and against whom? Their mode of operation is guerrilla warfare and terrorist attacks, not pitched battles against other troops.

    Standard military operations are reasonably effective ways to conduct warfare between states. That’s precisely why we’ve been having such problems against non-state entities. In Afghanistan, we were successful against the Taliban, which was the government of that state, who we attacked because they were sheltering the criminal gang we really wanted. We were not, in fact, successful against al Qaeda, since we let them get away.

    The number of casualties inflicted is irrelevant to this question. In this case, a criminal gang exploited a specific weakness that we weren’t protecting ourselves against, allowing a very small group of terrorists to create a surprisingly large number of casualties. Even OBL was surprised! But fundamentally, it’s not that different from parking a truck filled with fertilizer and fuel oil in front of a federal building.

    But Robin, you haven’t addressed my principal point. Our labeling al Qaeda as an existential threat to the USA *helps them*. It doesn’t help us. Why do it?

  7. Beard – the problem is, as I see it, that we tried the ‘criminal gang’ model during the Clinton years. I happen to think they actually did a damn good job of it.

    And the violence escalated.

    So while conceptually, what you say makes sense – the history doesn’t bear you out.

    My argument (and I’ve never developed this as well as it deserves, is that the locus of state power and transnational criminal activity is the problem; when states use organizations like AQ, and are in turn used by them the problem becomes far bigger.


  8. Dealing with a major criminal gang is not a walk in the park. But just because the Mafia is a big problem, we don’t attack Italy, or even just Sicily.

    You are certainly right that the confluence of states and non-state entities can raise new problems. Non-state entities can engage in asymmetrical warfare, where they attack and hide, so there is no one visible to retaliate against. A state can’t hide. But that makes states accountable in ways that non-state entities are not, so the confluence provides more leverage, too.

    I suggest that we would have been better off staying Clinton’s course, rather than Bush’s. (Of course, we shouldn’t have run away from Somalia, but then we shouldn’t have run away from Beirut in 1982 either.)

  9. Beard, you confuse guerilla warfare and terrorism. They are not equivalent. Light infantry units can and have conducted guerilla wars in the past. Al Queda in Afghanistan trained and operated as light infantry units against us such as in Operation Anaconda. It took military operations to root out those Al Queda troops. Comparisons to the mafia are false, unless the mafia maintain military training camps, operate in squad and platoon size formations and employ heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and mortars.

    It is necessarily to label Al Queda an threat to the West because if it was not so pointed out, people like yourself would incorrectly claim that Al Queda was just a criminal gang.

  10. You are mistaken about there never has been an Arab caliphate; all the early caliphates up until the Mongol invasions in the thirteenth century were Arab, with the possible exception of some of the North African and Spanish sultans, some of whom proclaimed themselves as caliphs due to their distance from Damascus; they were too far away to be effectively ruled by the various dynastic caliphates located in what is now Syria.

  11. It is obvious that I agree with beard and the Criminal Gang designation and his belief that elevating them above that only helps them. But the other part of the question, calling these movements Islamofascism is worse.
    The word has no meaning, at all and more than that, it does not describe the phenomena at all. The more I hear it the more it sounds like the name of an ingredient used to sell laundry detergent.

    “Use Tide with Islamofascism to make the decadent west squeaky clean.” It is Orwellian in its degradation of language.

  12. I agree on the caliphate issue. The problem comes from a long time ago. There has always been an extremism inherent to Islam, more than a thousand years before an Italian Socialist called Mussolini created Fascism.

    However, in developed nations, religion is not considered a physical threat, so calling it a religious problem might bring confussion, but it is indeed a religious rooted one.

  13. I’m not sure that I have any book recommendations, but each of these books contain a general history of Islam or Arabs that include a discussion of Western influence:

    David Pryce-Jones, The Closed Circle
    Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude
    Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism

    Each of these are looking at different subjects. For Pryce-Jones, its culture (tribalism), for Ye’or, its religion and for Karsh its politics. But each lingers on the negative feedback loops of the late 18th century and early 19th century.

    I have to admit that I haven’t finished the Karsh book, but based upon his previous Empires of the Sand, I expect it be very good. Pryce-Jones has a chapter on the Impact of Nazism. Ye’or spends discusses the influence of European anti-Semitism in creating Azury’s vision of a Middle East with overlapping temporal authorities (both Arab and French) and overlapping religious authorities (Caliph and Pope). The purpose of such an alignment would be to defeat the international jewish conspiracy.

    I think the post makes too much of some obscure English Romantic Poet. The English literary class had sharpened its stakes against the Turks at least since Lord Byron and many of them romanticized the “racial attributes” of the peoples suffering Ottoman depravity.

    More should be made of Napoleon’s influence on the region. French occupation of Egypt was followed by the rise of Muhammad Ali, who utilized French reforms (and after Waterloo former Bonapartist army and naval officers) to create a military / police state. It was a certain vision of Europe.

  14. Islamofascist is a stupid term, designed, I suppose, to bring forth some archetypical response from our cultural memory of WW2.

    It is low grade propaganda designed for consumption by simpletons. Thus, I suppose, it is the reason it has gained traction with a substantial proportion of the US population (see Curve, Bell).

    To anyone who doubts this; please look up the term “fascism” before responding (hint: it implies corporate control of the government) and relate the term to Al Qaeda and other such groups.

    I would also add that the criminal gang perspective is intriguing, but falls a little short of usefull, actionable or real description.

    The reality is that Bin Laden and his devotees really are religious piots. They really do love Islam and Islamic pureists really do love them.

    Unlike fascists or criminals, these men (and women, I guess) are very much devoted – onto death – to something beyond material/wordly gain. Such people are always heros and always martyrs in death.

    As long as there is a palpable resonance in their cause they cannot be defeated; not even by the US and whatever coalition it can assemble.

    You must first remove that which resonates.

    What is it?

    They have told you.

  15. avedis:

    To anyone who doubts this; please look up the term “fascism” before responding (hint: it implies corporate control of the government) and relate the term to Al Qaeda and other such groups.

    “Corporatism” does not mean corporate control of the government. Corporatism refers to fascism’s theory of the State as a living body, in which all classes and groups cooperate like organs in that body. Certainly nothing controls the government; under fascism, the government controls everything.

    Apart from coming from the same Latin root, it has no relation to the English term corporation, which means a company that exists for legal purposes as an individual entity, as if it were a person.

    Italian fascists used the term corporatisme, but the word corporation is not used in Italian. The word for both a corporation and a non-corporate company is societa. (That doesn’t mean they are related to Socialism.)

    You’re welcome.

  16. I’ll stand by “criminal gang”, even if they are motivated by their version of Islamic purity. (And I would bet there are plenty of folks who consider themselve Islamic purists who absolutely despise OBL and AQ.)

    Doubtless there are, and have been in the past, groups of white supremacists in the USA who are motivated by their version of Christianity. If they commit crimes in pursuit of their beliefs, they are criminals, regardless of their sincerity. If they are an organized group, they are an organized criminal gang, and should be treated that way. (No position on the actual level of sincerity of actual members of the KKK in the USA.)

    The point of this framing of the problem is to declare to the world that the members of such a criminal gang are violating the standards of civilized behavior, and will be held accountable for their actions.

    We are not going to forget to pursue a criminal gang that has murdered 3000 people. We don’t need to use a bogus term like “War on Terror” to stay motivated to catch them. (And no, these criminals are not going to get released on a technicality because someone forgot to read someone their Miranda rights.)

    Most importantly, why give them more power and influence, by labeling them an existential threat to the most powerful country in the world? Why should we help them in this way?

  17. #16 from Beard at 2:47 am on Oct 29, 2007

    That is about the long and the short of it.

    I would only add that even mentioning the religious angle only gives them more credit than they deserve. I doubt that anyone in Anbar whould characterize them as anything other than thugs, no matter how much they profess to be zealots. Look at the effect(actions)and not the words (propaganda).

    Islamofascism should be purged from the lexicon.

  18. “Certainly nothing controls the government; under fascism, the government controls everything.”

    Yeah, I know Glen. I’ll ak again if you would some how related this to Al Qaeda. You haven’t done that yet.

    TOC, I think that AQ in Iraq has acted much more thugishly toward fellow muslims than AQ anywhere else ever did. I agree that AQ in Iraq is very much more like a criminal gang. I do not know their level of connectivity to Bin Laden and imagine that they are more like a poorly run franchise that purchased the name only.

    IF AQ everywhere acts like the Iraq group, then we won’t have to worry about AQ much longer because Muslims themselves will put a stop to it. However, I don’t this is the case.

    “I would only add that even mentioning the religious angle only gives them more credit than they deserve.”

    I think failing to credit the religious angle to vastly underestimate the enemy and therefore to make strategic ans tactical blunders because the religious angle is correct whether or not you want it to be – though, again, I think AQ in Iraq has acted more like a straight up political terrorist group than religiously motivated.

    Pakistan will be where we see the true face of AQ. I will admit that it is possible that where ever AQ becomes involved in a broader cross section of society than Afghanistan had to offer we may see a thugish side emerge. This would be a good thing if true because it will delegitimize them and remove that resonance.

  19. Three questions occur to me about AQ being a criminal gang.

    One, the term ‘criminal’ implies that they are beholden to a sovereign entity to which they are in violation of the law of said entity.

    A law enforcement approach would then entail finding the correct jurisdictional authority and having them enforce compliance with the law. How the heck is that supposed to work against AQ?

    Two, criminal gangs are traditionally essentially black market corporations. They buy/sell/trade in areas (drugs, sex, violence) that are prohibited by artificial government constraint. They exist to make money. Too much violence and they can’t make money (either they spend all of their profit on security or they trigger a government crack down). As such they tend to (excepting periods of loss of self control or escalating inter-gang warfare) naturally limit to a level of violence that stays under the radar of society at large.

    Given that, the primary tools to combat criminal gangs are financial since it goes to the heart of not just their capability, but also their motivation.

    How precisely does AQ fit the mold of a criminal gang? Why classify an organization that exists for the purpose of pulling down and replacing current governments as a criminal gang instead of a revolutionary uprising/party?

    Three, why is a military reaction against AQ not a good thing? Military actions are by definition expedient actions and do not create precedent in dealings outside of other military actions. They are also very tightly scoped and limited both temporally and geographically.

    By contrast, any civilian based reaction to a terrorist threat like AQ must be limited to the methodology one wishes the government to be able to use anytime against anyone.

    Grant the government expedient power to attack criminal terrorists, you grant them that power to use against criminal drug dealers, criminal child molesters, etc etc.

    These powers once granted have been historically been extremely difficult to reverse or limit (see War, Drug).

    From a civil liberties perspective, why is a civilian response to AQ a better strategy?

    I’d like to also note that, despite being universally despised, the slave trade is very much alive and well throughout the western world, including in the US. All government efforts to stomp it out have failed.

    How precisely do you expect us to do better against terrorists with that approach?

  20. It may be, Treefrog, that those who subscribe to the criminal gang analogy are refering more to the network structure than to the terrorist activity.

    I agree with you that seeing AQ as a criminal gang does nothing for us in contemplating and devising an irradication approach.

    On the other hand, I don’t see invasions and occupations of entire countries – a la traditional military operations – as constructive to the effort.

    What is needed is good intelligence, better intelligence and more better intelligence and superb counter intelligence followed by surgical military strikes wherever the enemy is found. There is the problem of striking within the borders of sovereign nations and this is why superb diplomacy is also critical to the effort.

    Saddly we are saddled with lunkheads and incompetent ideologues and psychopaths in our current administration. So we get an Iraq quagmire and failing Afghanistan nation building.

  21. #19 from Treefrog at 11:55 pm on Oct 29, 2007

    I think we are talking about apples and oranges. I thought we were discussing the narrow point of the use of Islamofascism to describe Al Queda like groups, not only is a misuse of fascism, but overstates the cohesion and power of these groups.

    I think that your points about what constitutes a criminal gang in broader terms are well taken. I just don’t think it is what was being discussed.

  22. avedis –

    Do you seriously believe that “What is needed is good intelligence, better intelligence and more better intelligence and superb counter intelligence followed by surgical military strikes wherever the enemy is found. There is the problem of striking within the borders of sovereign nations and this is why superb diplomacy is also critical to the effort.” Do you really think that there is some Magic Diplomacy Powder that will allow Pakistan or the Sudan to nod and smile while our troops walk around assassinating and kidnapping people?

    Run that out as a scenario for me, will you? Let’s play a game. I’ll be Sudan, you can be the US.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>